Jack Gant: A Fan for Life

There are fans, there are super fans and then there’s the Hon. Jack Gant (J.D. ’54).

The retired Jackson County Circuit Court judge has at- tended 74 NAIA Basketball tournaments. No, that’s not a typo: 74. That’s even after he broke his neck in six places earlier this year.

“They play their guts out in the NAIA,” said Gant, who is 87. “These are young people who are probably never going to play pro ball but they dive for balls. To me, that kind of hustle and hard work is important and what keeps me going.”

Gant’s appreciation for hustle, hard work and sports can be traced back to when he was nine, when his father died. This was during the Depression, so Gant went to work to help support his sister and mother, selling magazines and working for a pharmacy in Independence, Mo. Gant loved sports and en- joyed playing catch with his dad, but couldn’t officially play on a team because he worked for four hours every day after school.

“But I asked the high school track coach to run against his fastest runner, and I beat him,” Gant said.

“In life, we compete constantly, against siblings for attention, against students for grades, against candi- dates for jobs, even against others for a spouse. Winning is everything. What sports teaches you is that you’re going to win and lose, and what makes the difference, what makes you win is hard work.”

Gant started attending NAIA tournaments with his friends in 1941 when he was 13. He hasn’t missed a tournament since the late 1940s when he spent two years in the Marines. He tried to get a leave of absence to see the tournament but letters to a politician didn’t work.

Gant tries to watch most of the 31 games in the tournament. When he was a senator, he’d speed back and forth between Jefferson City’s capitol building and Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium. When he was a judge, others knew not to bother him at tournament time.

These days, he attends his grandkids’ sporting events just as he did for his five children. The grandkids play it all: basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, even horseback riding. Gant attends UMKC basketball games, gives to student athletic scholarships and advocates for improved sports venues at UMKC and throughout the metro.

“I don’t know what we’d do without sports,” Gant said. “It’s what brings people together.”

PharmD Student Kim Nezianya Combines Studies and Sports

At UMKC, the students are our story. Look, listen and learn about us through interviews, photographs and videos of our students. Read the other student stories and go to umkcgoingplaces.tumblr.com and follow.


1st Year PharmD | School of Pharmacy | 2018

How do you pronounce your last name?

Na-Zan-Ya — like lasagna with an N.

Where is UMKC taking you?

Lots of places. To the basketball court. I was an athlete here, moving to Kansas City from Dallas. Both of my parents are from Nigeria. And now, I am a student in the School of Pharmacy. I have been at UMKC for six years. I double majored in Communications Studies and Chemistry.

Why did you choose UMKC?

I chose this university because of the basketball opportunities, and I wanted to live in a large city like Kansas City instead of a suburb of Dallas.

How has college inspired you?

College has inspired me to dream bigger. A great education opens the door to numerous opportunities in the future. So being at UMKC has taught me that I really can be the change I want to be.

Since entering college, what have you learned about yourself?

I have learned that I am my own worst critic. It’s great to set goals and strive to be exceptional, but it is okay to rely on grace sometimes. “Failure,” in most circumstances leads to growth, so it really is okay to fail sometimes.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received from a professor?

Don’t be afraid to build professional relationships. In college, you are encountering people from so many different backgrounds, and you can learn from them. In addition, most professors had professional careers prior to teaching; so don’t be afraid to reach out to them and use them as resources both during coursework and afterwards.

Who do you admire most at UMKC?

I really admire both Chancellor Leo Morton and UMKC Athletic Director Carla Wilson. I think it’s so admirable that although they are both people in important administrative positions, they take the time to build personal relationships with students. I had the honor of being a student athlete during my undergrad years and got to know both of them very well. Being a minority student, it’s also encouraging to see to African American people who hold positions as high as they do, but as such, displaying such humility. It’s awesome!

Carla Wilson worked here 17 years before she became the athletic director and is one of the few African American women in the country who holds that title. She reaches out to all the students who want her mentorship or to just talk. Chancellor Morton has been instrumental in my success during my time at UMKC. He knows students by name and also what their goals are.

What’s your greatest fear?

When I first started college, I would have said not reaching my fullest potential, not being remembered. But at this point in my life, I don’t fear things like that anymore because I know I was created with purpose. I just strive to live each day with intentionality in whatever I am faced with and I have complete confidence resting in that.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I see myself married, maybe with a couple of children. Hopefully I’ll be working as a pharmacist in a hospital somewhere or doing medical missionary work.

Tell us more about your faith.

I was a top athlete in Dallas, and it wasn’t the same when I arrived here. I had to adjust, learn to continue without following the desire to quit. I also had to work harder than I ever thought I could to get accepted into the School of Pharmacy. I had to depend on my faith to get through these challenges.

What is one word that best describes you?

Resilient. Whether it’s been injuries as an athlete, insecurities about purpose, family, drama, relationships or whatever, I have been through a lot of different seasons in my life – some good and some bad.  But in every one of those seasons I have chosen growth instead of giving up. I credit it to living a faith-based life and having an end goal to focus on.

Blake Hocking Speaks Three Languages and Breaks UMKC Track and Field Records

At UMKC, the students are our story. Introducing a new digital storytelling project. Look, listen and learn about us through interviews, photographs and videos of our students. Read the other student stories and go to umkcgoingplaces.tumblr.com and follow.


Chemistry and Spanish majors | College of Arts and Sciences | 2015 | UMKC Track and Field

Where is UMKC taking you?

I’m getting a great education and meeting new people. This is my sixth semester here, and I’ve grown a lot each semester. I live with Brazilian students, and I visited them last summer in Brazil. I want to combine being quadrilingual with being a dentist. (Blake speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese, and is studying to become fluent in French).

What led you to UMKC?

In high school I was a nationally ranked athlete, and I looked at a lot of colleges. The (UMKC track) coach talked to my dad when we were visiting MU, and he came and visited my house. My parents are from Kansas City, so it seemed like a good fit.

Why did you choose UMKC?

I came here for the School of Dentistry and for track. I throw the shot, the discus, the hammer and the weight. I hold the UMKC school record for the outdoor shot put.

On January 31, you also broke the UMKC record for the indoor shot put. How does it feel to hold two UMKC records?

I feel it is a sign of my hard work, putting in hard work and remembering the journey it took to break the records, even when at times it seemed unreachable. It makes me want to see what my full potential is.

What are your lifelong goals?

I hope to earn a master’s degree in romance languages, then attend dental school. Maybe provide free dental care for the underprivileged. I want to travel abroad. Maybe live abroad. Maybe go into the military and work on a base overseas.

What motto do you live by?

Live life to the fullest and don’t look back.

What excites you?

When I learn new stuff. I like Netflix, but I feel life is too short to sit around. I want to feel at the end of the day that I know more than I did at the beginning of the day. I do better when I’m busy.

How has college inspired you?

I have learned to think more profoundly and aspire to do what I truly want to accomplish in life.

Since entering college, what have you learned about yourself?

I have learned that I can make a difference in people’s lives. I have been able to connect with students from all of the world on UMKC’s culturally diverse campus. I have been able to surround myself with people who share common interests with me and through them, I have discovered who I am as a person and what I want to do in life.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received from a professor?

Remember the journey towards a goal, not only the final destination, for it is the journey that defines the person.

What do you admire most at UMKC?

I admire how professors take extra time to work with their students, to help the students understand the material at hand in class.

What’s your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is being insignificant in life. I want to make a change in the world and be remembered for how I was able to make a positive difference in others’ lives.

What is one word that best describes you and why?

Spontaneous is the best word to describe me because I have always been an advocate of surprises and I want to see where life takes me, though I do not always know what will happen beforehand.